Now it’s official: Michelle Rhee today announced her resignation as chancellor of the D.C. public schools.
It was expected, of course, after her patron, Mayor Fenty, lost the Democratic primary a few weeks ago. A schools chancellor needs the strong backing of the mayor — especially if she’s a chancellor who wants to make a difference. Ms. Rhee realized the backing for what she was doing — sacking bad teachers, expanding options for parents, measuring student achievement — was not going to be forthcoming from the presumptive mayor-to-be, Vincent Gray.
Ironically Rhee’s departure comes on the heels of the release of Davis Guggenheim’s Waiting for Superman, an indictment of our failing public schools, in which Rhee is one of the heroes. Mr. Guggenheim, the filmmaker who gave us Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, told me that a Rhee departure would be like “turning out the lights during heart surgery.”
This is a huge blow for D.C. schoolchildren, who last year watched as Dick Durbin killed off a popular voucher program. But I wonder. Depending what Rhee does next, it could be that being squeezed out of D.C. may do more for the cause nationally than her staying. At least it has focused national attention on the problem with big-city public education today: The Empire Always Strikes Back.